Studio: The Weinstein Company
Film Length: 131 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English DD 5.1
Subtitles: Optional English & Spanish subtitles
The Film - out of
In the cold, war ravaged Lithuanian countryside the Lecter family seek refuge from their luxurious Castle by hiding out in their cottage dwelling. But, the inevitability of war follows them and young Hannibal (Aaron Thomas) and his little sister, Mischa (Helena Lia Tachouska) are witness to the death of their parents as a small group of Russian soldiers battle Nazi German planes. Alone, cold and hungry, young Hannibal and his sister in their parent’s country cottage are met by looting members of the German war machine. Here the children fall prey to their cruel ways as Mischa is killed and eaten by the starved and crazed group of war thugs.
And so begins the twisted and horrific existence of Hannibal Lecter, the ultra-intelligent and wickedly sinister serial killer that has captivated the literary and celluloid loving public for almost 16 years.
With the screenplay being written by Author Thomas Harris, the writer of ‘Red Dragon’, ‘Silence of the Lambs’ and ‘Hannibal’, “Hannibal Rising” maintains an intriguing literary quality not typically bestowed upon films like this. Director Peter Webber has crafted quite an interesting film. By utilizing the considerable talent of Ben Davis, the Director of Photography on films such as “Layer Cake” and “Imaging You & Me”, he builds a cold and rich atmosphere for the world during and shortly after World War II. So much so that this film is about as far removed from the others in the series as it could be; a brave and satisfying idea that, in the end, works against the films success. This doesn’t look or feel like Silence or Hannibal, and doesn’t even connect to them in the way a film about the origins of those stories greatest asset really should. In the commentary, Director Webber references the author’s intent to make a sort of adult fairytale versus the crime procedural thriller intended with the others in the franchise. For that, the marketing of this film has done a disservice as it looked to create the same sense of thriller atmosphere ripe in the others. That simply does not exist in this film. Nor does “Hannibal Rising” exist as an examination of a young mans descent into criminal insanity that would bestow upon the earth the mastermind that is the infamous Hannibal Lecter. Instead, it exists somewhere in between the two, with only the occasional tense scene or moment of emotional gravitas indicative of a man falling prey to that rare calm madness of monstrous evil.
That distant step-child feeling isn’t the only obstacle this film faces. There are some pacing issues and odd skips between scenes that feel rushed against individual scenes that move with a purposeful and often eerie calm. In particular, in a scene where Hannibal is being chased, somehow within a few seconds he is leaving the building, riding his bike and on his way into his home while the action he just left seems to be only a few minutes in. I am not sure if this is a lack of patience on the part of the filmmaker, an odd creative choice or simply an oversight, but it is an issue that tugs at the suspension of disbelief and hurts the overall feel of the film.
Having said all that, there is much to enjoy about “Hannibal Rising”. It’s a very interesting film with a good solid story. It is also a beautifully shot piece of cinema that manages to exist, outside of its link with the others in the series, as an entertaining couple of hours. The actors too, are worth mentioning. Young French actor Gaspard Ulliel delivers a devious and connected performance as the youthful Hannibal. Gong Li, his widowed aunt in the film manages to use her hauntingly beautiful expressions to good affect and the band of bad guys, whom Hannibal hunts down to exact revenge upon, are all satisfying. And the look and feel of this film is quite a thing of beauty. The de-saturated and very cold look of the Lithuanian scenes in particular is quite striking.
This unrated edition runs 131 minutes compared to the 117 minute running time of the theatrical cut.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen and framed at 2:35.1, “Hannibal Rising” has a certain sweeping elegance to it. The transfer is good, but not great. The beginning of the film, with its bleached and de-saturated look, shows up particularly well and even the later scenes, set in France and shot with a semi-romantic tone, turn out to look rather nice, but there is some grain evident in the transfer that is a little unwelcome. Overall, the colors (or lack of them) are well represented on this disc.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is quite dynamic, managing by turns to be haunting and booming, from the flashback scenes of young Mischa’s dire end to the war sequences complete with explosions and tank mortar blasts. The surrounds and subwoofer get a pretty good run with “Hannibal Rising”. That’s not to say that this is reference quality by any stretch of the imagination, just that it’s a reasonably engaging audio track. Vocals are clear and quite crisp and the score, filled with brooding and quasi romantic strings by composers Ilan Eshkeri & Shigeru Umebayashi, sound lush and help add another quality dimension to the technical execution of the film.
Audio Commentary with Director Peter Webber and Producer Martha De Laurentiis – What is most interesting about this commentary track is the obvious sense of joy and enthusiasm of the director, bringing a strange energy and lightheartedness to a dark, cold and grey film. The commentators give much credit to production designer Allan Starski for the authentic look of the settings, indicating that they had all watched great WWII films like ‘the Guns of Navarrone’ to achieve the look and feel of that era.
Oddly, the director cites the western genre and Sergio Leone in particular as an influence in making ‘Hannibal Rising’. This influence is not obvious when watching the film but when Webber points out certain scenes during the commentary, it is interesting to see.
Deleted scenes with optional commentary (4:17) – There are five deleted scenes with optional commentary from Director Peter Webber that cover ground from throughout the film. Most are very brief and don’t add much at all to the pace or context of the larger sections of the film. Again, the comments from the Director provide good insight into the ultimate reason for their elimination from the presented cut.
‘Designing Horror and Elegance’ with production designer Allan Starski (7:29) – A conversation with the very talented production designer, responsible for the convincingly authentic look and feel to the production. The sets designed and built for this film are an incredibly important dimension that, working in conjunction with the exemplary photography, helped elevate the film out of many of its obvious faults.
Hannibal Lecter – The Origin of Evil (16:08) – Clips from the film and conversations with the filmmakers and others about the fascination with the character of Hannibal Lector and the events explored in the film. These sorts of special features can often digress into extended promos, wastes of time better suited to the vacuous mires of TV magazines like ‘Entertainment Tonight’ or ‘Extra’. But these 16 minutes actually turn out to be pretty interesting with some good behind the scenes nuggets of information.
Theatrical and Teaser Trailers for “Hannibal Rising” – Both presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and, unfortunately, non-anamorphic widescreen.
Earning just $27.7MM at the domestic box office, it seems that “Hannibal Rising” didn’t manage to connect with audiences, no doubt coming as a disappointment to those looking for the same elevated adrenaline level achieved by the masterful "Silence of the Lambs”. Even those who can forgive Ridley Scott’s mildly eccentric “Hannibal” will have missed the more delectable murderous escapades of one of cinemas greatest villains. But, standing on its own “Hannibal Rising” is a pretty good film. Even without the preposterously good Anthony Hopkins filling the role of Lecter, it still manages to be an interesting entry into the library about ‘Hannibal the cannibal’.
Far from flaw-free, but shot with a gorgeous eye, “Hannibal Rising” is worth taking a look.